The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned countries to brace for the new Omicron Covid variant, urging them to boost vaccination for vulnerable groups.
The WHO released a technical brief on Omicron, which was classified as a variant of concern (VOC) on Friday. “The overall global risk related to the new VOC Omicron is assessed as very high,” the brief said.
The agency described Omicron as a variant with a high number of mutations, some of which “may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility.” At the same time, the WHO noted that there are “still considerable uncertainties” regarding the new strain of the virus.
The agency urged countries to ramp up their monitoring of all coronavirus variants, including Omicron, and boost vaccination “as rapidly as possible,” especially in terms of covering high-priority and vulnerable groups. Measures like masking and physical distancing remain crucial in the fight against the pandemic, the agency said.
Despite uncertainties, it is reasonable to assume that currently available vaccines offer some protection against severe disease and death.
Also known as the B.1.1.529 variant, Omicron was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on Wednesday. It was later discovered in countries such as Australia, the UK, Belgium, and Canada.
The emergence of the new strain prompted Israel and Japan to close their borders to foreign nationals.